The Tuna fishing season in Libya is a neglected economic resource that is costing Libya around US$ 5 billion annually in potential lost revenues due to illegal fishing within its territorial waters.
That is the assessment of Captain Salem Mohamed Al-Masoud, a specialist in tuna fishing and a member of the Libyan Association of Seas.
Tuna fish is considered one of the most important economic fish in the world, which gave it the name of blue gold. The Libyan tuna fishing season starts from mid-April to mid-July, as it migrates to the beaches extending from the Al-Bouri (Mullet) offshore oil and gas field in the west near the Tunisian border to the Benghazi plain in the east.
Tuna captures off the Libyan coast reach 902 tons annually
In an exclusive interview with Libya Herald, Al-Masoud, said that the Libyan coast is among the most abundant places where tuna is available in huge quantities and exceeds what the local market needs. He estimated tuna captures off the Libyan coast reach 902 tons annually.
Illegal tuna fishing in Libyan territorial waters led by the Japanese and Europeans
There are a lot of foreign tuna fishing dredgers from several countries, led by Japanese and European fishing boats, and from Egypt and Tunisia, which fish for tuna and red shrimps within Libyan territorial waters without obtaining approvals from the competent Libyan local authorities, he explained.
Libyan tuna exported to Japan for sushi
He added that most of the quantities of tuna caught illegally by foreign dredgers are exported to Japan for the preparation of sushi dishes.
Al-Masoud explained that small/immature fish are caught and fattened in fish enclosure / cages in the gulfs of Malta and Spain, as well as off the Ras Hilal gulf in Libya.
World Tuna prices tripled last year
The price of the most expensive tuna fish in the world last year, he revealed, was 3 times the price that was offered for the most expensive fish of the same type in the previous year.
Libyan tuna sold in Tokyo auction for US$ 1.76 million
He said that in the fish market in the Japanese capital, Tokyo, and during a public auction of fish, the price of a bluefin tuna caught from the Libyan territorial sea amounted to about $1.76 million, a price that is 3 times the highest price of a fish sold at auction in 2018.
Bluefin tuna is overfished and may disappear
However, sounding a note of caution, Al-Masoud warned that the growing popularity of the Japanese sushi dish in many countries around the world has led to a significant expansion of tuna farms in the Mediterranean region. These are caught in large quantities while they are small from the open sea before the fishing season, and if no action is taken, the bluefin tuna will disappear completely from the Mediterranean within the coming years.
Tuna fishing licence fees counterproductive – sold to foreign fishers to gain profit
With regard to the legislation regulating tuna fishing in Libya, Al-Masoud said the fees for granting licenses for fishing bluefin tuna in Libyan waters from Libya’s quota for 2023 were LD 5.12 per kilogram on the quota granted for licenses. It is LD 50,000 for the foreign tuna unit for fishing dredgers and LD 1,500 on the National Marine Fishing Auxiliary Unit.
He said these Licence fees do not serve the national economy, as many local license holders sell their licences to foreign fishers to benefit from the price difference.